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A peek into the operations at a Reno 911 dispatch center

A woman is sitting in a chair facing away from the camera and looking at several computer monitors.
A 911 dispatcher monitoring computer screen at the REMSA dispatch center.

REMSA Health recently hosted a behind-the-scenes look at their 911 dispatch center in recognition of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

Rows of cubicles lined the inside of the REMSA dispatch center off Edison Way in Reno.

At each space, a 911 dispatcher sat. And when you walk in it seemed like each person is on the phone with someone.

In one corner of the room, Ralph Torres sat in front of six different monitors. Each displayed something different. Some showed maps of the city. One showed the locations of different emergencies, and another listed the different calls taking place.

Torres finished up a call. He said each time he picks up the phone, it's a roll of the dice for what sort of call he might be getting.

“Every call is different, we're not sure what we're going to run into when the phone rings. So sometimes we do get an understanding that there is a high stress situation,” Torres said.

As you listen to some of the calls that Torres answered, you wonder how dispatchers are able to handle these situations without becoming overwhelmed.

“I just gotta keep my composure just to help them get through the call and give me the best information that they can provide, so that I can help process the call, (and) get the crew the best information that we can,” Torres said.

On average, the dispatch center receives nearly 300 calls a day. But on certain days, that number can double to nearly 600 calls. That sounds like a lot of calls, even for a center that has so many dispatchers sitting at every desk. This is all normal, but sometimes it does get hard, Torres said.

“It's a struggle, especially when we have a real serious incident, but for the most part, you know, it's kind of a routine thing,” Torres said.

The dispatch center sends out the first responders, but behind the scenes, REMSA works to come up with strategies to get responders to callers quicker. To do this, it uses a software that helps first responders determine where the next emergency is likely to happen.

“It's constantly collecting data every single day, every single minute, every hour. What it does is it will look back at six months worth of data. It will predict where our next highest priority life threatening emergency is going to happen within our response area,” said Chrstine Barton, director of regional communications for REMSA.

REMSA might station responders at one particular part of town for a certain period of time, because an emergency is most likely to happen near there according to the software. Over the coming months, these emergency “hot spots” will shift their location. And REMSA will act accordingly and move the responders to the new hot spots.

“This system will be even more critical for future emergency response, as the number of 911 calls continue to rise,” Barton said.

“We have seen a very steady rise in our call volumes, and it continues to go up and by what we've heard through statisticians, and also our own internal review or research. It does look like it will continue to rise over the next several years significantly,” Barton said.

But as for Torres, he said that after four years of working at the dispatch center, he hardly thinks about the call volumes, and that it's all just part of the job.

KUNR’s Nick Stewart is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Nick Stewart is a political reporting intern for KUNR and a student with the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR.
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